Number of People Living in U.S. on $2 a Day Surges, Book Says

According to a new book, 1.5 million American households — and 3 million children — live in conditions that can be defined as “ultrapoor.”

The number of people living on $2 a day in the United States has doubled since 1996.

According to the book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” this economic fate is now a reality for 1.5 million households and 3 million children, CBS MoneyWatch reports.

The book was written by Kathryn J. Edin, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, with H. Luke Shaefer, an associate professor of social work and associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

It was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Tuesday, when Edin also discussed the book on a conference call.

Two dollars a day is the threshold the World Bank uses to measure poverty in the developed world, according to CBS.

Edin states that America’s ultrapoor are not in their economic situation because they are unable or unwilling to work:

“One thing that surprised me was a clear attachment to the labor force. They saw work as a way to lift themselves up out of those circumstances.”

She instead cites “a failure of the labor market and our safety net, as well as their own personal circumstances.”

That safety net was overhauled in the welfare reform of the 1990s, when the system called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was implemented to help poor families with children. But since then the number of families living on $2 a day has increased and the number of Americans aided by TANF has decreased.

According to “$2.00 a Day,” TANF reached more than 14.2 million people in 1994 but only 3.8 million people in 2014, CBS reports:

The authors’ research — which included data analysis and interviews with ultrapoor families in four regions — found that many families weren’t even aware of TANF. “One person said, ‘They aren’t just giving it out anymore,'” Shaefer said. “In fact, in Appalachia it has, in some ways, disappeared. We asked, ‘Have you thought about applying for TANF?’ and they said, ‘What’s that?'”

In his New York Times review of “$2.00 a Day,” William Julius Wilson, a sociology and social policy professor at Harvard University, describes the book as “a call to action.” His review concludes:

The rise of such absolute poverty since the passage of welfare reform belies all the categorical talk about opportunity and the American dream.

What’s your reaction to the book’s statistics on the ultrapoor? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Stacy Johnson

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